It does not matter where you live or work as a woman, the struggle is yours. This was the central theme of the message delivered by Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka on the occasion of the ninth annual Thabo Mbeki Africa Day Lecture. The event, presented by the Thabo Mbeki Foundation in partnership with Unisa, took place on 25 May 2018 in the ZK Matthews Great Hall, filled to capacity by ambassadors, high commissioners, representatives from higher education institutions, and luminaries in the world of politics, the private sector, and civil society.
This commemoration of Africa Day, the date in 1963 on which the Organisation of African Unity was founded, also formed part of the activities linked to the celebration of Unisa’s 145 proud years as a beacon of knowledge and inspiration on the African continent – as a leading light shaping futures, and being illuminated in turn by its partners, its stakeholders and the worldwide community it serves. Significantly, Madiba’s centenary is also celebrated this year.
No difference between Hollywood and Hammanskraal
“Our call to women and men is to continue the fight in all countries, because at this point in time there is not one country that has achieved gender equality,” said Mlambo-Ngcuka. “The struggle is universal, as has been shown in recent events in Hollywood. Impunity is entrenched there, as in the rest of the world. A man can be a serial abuser for decades and get away with it because his victim will keep quiet in fear of loss of income, poverty, and stigma. The struggle is therefore universal.”
Motherhood carries penalties
Mlambo-Ngcuka said that women are under-represented in decision-making bodies, from parliaments to media houses to corporate boards, regardless of where they are in the world. “Women are over-represented among the ranks of the poor, and in low-paying jobs in all countries,” said Mlambo-Ngcuka. “Wage inequality is a problem in all countries. “The International Labour Organization speaks of the motherhood penalty; in many cases, in the fullness of a woman’s life, she loses 40% of her income due to motherhood-related activities.”
In conclusion she said that she is calling for something to happen urgently so that these issues can be addressed, and ways be found to turn around this situation in society, which has for all intents and purposes been normalised. “We need a men’s movement,” she said to resounding applause from the audience. “We cannot allow the next generation to experience this.”
“People are actually dying”
The keynote address was followed by a panel discussion facilitated by Lerato Mbele-Roberts, BBC news anchor and journalist. Dr Jessie Kwabile, Malawian Member of Parliament, cited the example of a girl who is about to be killed in Sudan for attacking a person who raped her. “Let’s remember that there are people who are actually dying due to gender equality,” she said. She called for a petition to be started at the event and sent to the relevant authorities. Professor Kopano Ratele, attached to the Institute of Social and Health Sciences at Unisa, said that he fully supported the notion of men as partners in the war against gender inequality. “Men have to learn to keep quiet and listen,” he said.
Dedicated academic women’s resource mooted
In his welcoming address earlier in the evening, Unisa’s Principal and Vice-Chancellor Prof Mandla Makhanya said that the university has been contemplating the idea of a dedicated library or resource centre for women, about women. “The intention is for this facility to be hosted by this university together with a multi-stakeholder partnership, but led by Unisa and the Thabo Mbeki Foundation,” he said. “Once established, it will be a lasting legacy and reminder of the role that women have played upon the African continent. It will include the great uncelebrated achievements of women, from Queen Sheba of Ethiopia to Queen Anna Nzinga of the Mbundu people in Angola.”
Mbeki: “We know what to do”
In his summation at the conclusion of the evening, Unisa Chancellor Thabo Mbeki said that all those attending and watching the event had to leave with a single message. “We know what is wrong,” he said, “and we know that the African continent has correct policies to address gender equality. What’s missing is us in action. We must reach the point of acting decisively, consistent with the policies that we have. In this way we will respond to the reality that we know. The issue is entirely in our hands. Our governments will not act on these issues until we, the people, do so.”
Programme director for the evening was Unisa’s Acting Vice-Principal of Research, Postgraduate Studies, Innovation and Commercialisation, Dr Daisy Selematsela.
The event was broadcast live by the SABC. Click here to watch.
*By Philip van der Merwe
About Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
After starting her career as a teacher, Dr Mlambo-Ngcuka established a global programme for young women at the World YWCA in Geneva.
She founded the Umlambo Foundation, which supports leadership and education. A long-time champion of women’s rights, she is affiliated with several organisations devoted to education, women’s empowerment and gender equality.
In her illustrious political career, she served as Member of Parliament in South Africa’s first democratic government, Deputy Minister in the Department of Trade and Industry, Minister of Minerals and Energy, and Deputy President of South Africa.
She is currently serving as the Executive Director of UN Women with the rank of Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, and holds the distinction of having been appointed to this position by two successive Secretaries-General.
She holds a doctorate in education and technology from the University of Warwick, UK.